An open letter to Maajid Nawaz: on Islamism, Charlie Hebdo and free speech

By Khadija Khan


Dear Maajid,

First of all, I would like to acknowledge that you have long been an inspiration to many people from Muslim backgrounds, who were keen to reconcile their religious beliefs with human rights.  

I personally respect you for your thought provoking and remarkable contribution to the debate around the Islamist ideology and how this has influenced people (sometimes vulnerable) in committing atrocities around the world in the name of Islam. 

A few years ago, you faced death threats after tweeting a cartoon of Muhammad and Jesus. You did so because of your desire to defend freedom of speech and to challenge Islamic blasphemy laws. At the time, many of us defended you and lauded your bravery. 

So it was really unexpected when, during calls from some Muslims countries to boycott French goods (after the French president Emmanuel Macron publicly defended the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad) you ‘advised’ Macron to “pause now & ask why French Muslims feel so alienated & disenfranchised”. 


Macron made the remarks last week at a tribute to the murdered high school teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded in October during a terror attack in a northern suburb of Paris.

This really came as a shock for many people like me who admired you, Maajid, for your courage to stand up to the Islamists and their apologists by calling a spade a spade.  

An innocent man was decapitated in broad daylight just because a bunch of extremists were ‘offended’  by him showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in his class. This was a premeditated terror attack. As a result, France has now ordered the temporary closure of a mosque outside Paris, as part of a crackdown on people who are suspected of inciting hatred.  The mosque admin had shared a video on its Facebook page before the attack that vented hatred against Paty.  What is even more horrifying is that the children at the mosque pointed out the ‘blasphemer’ to the killer. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. They must have been brainwashed into believing that they were not committing a crime, but defending the honour of their prophet.  And that thought sends shivers down my spine.

Maajid, you know how this vicious circle of extremism works, and how young, vulnerable people are radicalised in the mosques – some of which are funded by foreign donations.

Your argument that the French strategy to deal with the Islamist threat is “no longer about principles, it’s about peacemaking” is ludicrous. Peacemaking  with whom? Islamists?

This is a really concerning statement.  Either you’re trying to paint all French Muslims as “violent Islamists” who would never make peace with their compatriots defending free speech (which is certainly not the case). Or they are just not capable enough to embrace the values of free speech, which is ‘bigotry of low expectations’ — a phrase you often use. 

You are aware that Muslims are the first victims of this violent ideology that condones the killing of innocent people, from anything to practicing a different sect of Islam to leaving the faith altogether. 

Every time there is any consideration for taking action against Islamists, the apologists claims that it is “targeting all Muslims” to obstruct the process of peace and harmony. So it is shocking that you appear to parrot the same narrative that would only help Islamists to continue with their nefarious agendas.

You appear to make it all about a conflict between common French Muslims and French authorities when this is simply not true. I don’t see anyone “advising” Turkey or Pakistan to “pause” their aggressive calls for boycotting French products or to embrace universal human rights. Both these countries persecute their own citizens, dissenters and minority groups. (And let’s not forget that Pakistan has been silent on the plight of Uighur Muslims in China. Clearly cartoons matter more than the actual persecution of Muslims.)

Caving in to their demands is akin to abandoning all those people who have fought (and still are fighting) against religious fundamentalism,  and are at the mercy of those radical Islamists, who would silence every single voice that dares to disagree with their extreme beliefs.

You seem to be arguing semantics but you should know that countless people’s lives are at risk. Innocent children are in danger of being radicalised even further. And Muslims need to ostracise these rotten apples from the wider community, to show that such people are following an extreme interpretation of Islam that the vast majority of Muslims do not follow. 

Moreover, we can’t let our children fall into this endless cycle of “being offended”. We know that Islamists and their apologists have orchestrated the culture of offense to shut down dissent and to silence all kinds of criticism of an extreme manifestation Islam.

There is no need to make peace with Islamists and we need to stand with Muslims as people. As you have said many times before Maajid: in an open society, no idea can be above scrutiny, just as no people should be beneath dignity. As far as I remember, you have been a staunch supporter of this narrative as a reformer. Please, enough with this narrative that implies defending religious sensibilities is the only concerning issue for Muslims.

Muslims living in poor French banlieues (suburbs), like most French people, are striving for a better lifestyle for their families and President Macron has promised to bring reforms to address this. 

The French president in his speech has promised his nation, including French Muslims, a law on “secularism and liberty” to counter Islamist “separatism”  — not Islam or Muslims. And the western world should be standing firm in the face of terror and defend France in its efforts to combat Islamism.

You have your own journey to go through Maajid, I understand. But after everything that has happened, your response to the crackdown on Islamists in France shows that you may not be a reliable expert on these issues that concern the majority of Muslims.

We are dealing with innocent human lives versus authoritative, theocratic ideas. One should be worrying about innocent people, not about the religious sensibilities of extremists.


Khadija Khan is a journalist and commentator based in the UK. You can follow her on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “An open letter to Maajid Nawaz: on Islamism, Charlie Hebdo and free speech

  1. Just in case you don’t see my tweet i left for you, I would like to tell you that I wrote an article about this regarding how my views changed from yours to Maajid’s. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well. I’m on Twitter at: lacelioness and left the link hyperlinked in my name here. Thank you.

    1. admin

      Thanks for sharing

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